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CNN Exchange: Commentary

Waters: Something can be done about extreme poverty

By Roger Waters
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Roger Waters is a British rock musician and a founder of Pink Floyd. He's also a spokesman for Millennium Promiseexternal link, an organization working to end extreme poverty in Africa.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- One dollar. It's the cost of a New York Times, less than half a cup of coffee at Starbucks. These days it's a paltry sum. Even less when you consider that right now, a billion people are struggling to survive on less than one dollar a day. This is what defines "extreme poverty."

What is life like on a dollar a day? Miserable, for the most part. It's living so close to the edge that any bad break -- an illness, a drought, a drink of dirty water -- can be fatal. Each day, 20,000 people in this condition die simply because they're too poor to live.

In Africa, extreme poverty means farmers hoping that their dusty patch of land will produce enough food to feed their families -- knowing that it won't. Extreme poverty means stunted children trudging miles every day to fetch drinking water that will probably make them sick. It means parents worrying constantly that their kids will die from something as simple as a mosquito bite because the local clinic (if there is one) lacks the medicine to cure malaria.

But, as I recently discovered, it doesn't have to be this way.

In 2005, I reunited with the other guys from Pink Floyd in London for the Live 8 concerts, which promoted debt relief, fair trade policies and increased foreign aid for poor countries. It was there I discovered a man named Dr. Jeffrey Sachs who has the bold notion that something can be done about extreme poverty. Even bolder, he's actually doing it -- and we can all help.

Dr. Sachs is a passionate advocate for the poor who also happens to be a renowned economist and adviser to world leaders. In 2005, he launched something called the Millennium Villages project, a joint effort between Millennium Promise, the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and the United Nations Development Program that is now operating in 79 of the poorest communities in sub-Saharan Africa (and, for that matter, the world).

Last year, I began supporting a Millennium Village in Potou, Senegal, a farming and fishing community near the west coast of Africa. I developed an interest in the country after a dear friend of mine, Phillip Constantine, married a Senegalese woman. Senegal, like many sub-Saharan African countries, is a malaria hot zone, where the disease accounts for 25 percent of hospital deaths. Tragically, Phillip died from malaria.

Potou is an especially inhospitable place to try to eke out a living. Sand dunes are creeping in and swallowing what little arable land there is. The crops that do grow are constantly threatened by drought and pests. There is hope, however: Millennium Villages are proving that -- even in places like this -- things can be done to improve people's lives and livelihoods.

The basic idea is to tackle all the things that cause extreme poverty at once in simple, cost-effective ways. Inexpensive seed and fertilizer are enabling farmers to double and triple their crops. Part of this surplus is being used for school feeding programs. For the first time, many of the students now get a free meal for lunch, and attendance rates and test scores are skyrocketing as a result.

Another reason students can go to school is that now, there's clean water in the villages -- no more trudging to get it -- the result of newly protected water sources or freshly dug borehole wells. We're tackling malaria as well: Free bed nets and medicines are reducing malaria infection rates by as much as 90 percent.

Success stories like these are inspiring people from all walks of life to join the fight against extreme poverty. For my part, I've been asking fans on my current tour to donate and get involved with Millennium Promise, an organization founded by Dr. Sachs to fight extreme poverty. In memory of my friend Phillip, I recently auctioned off a bass guitar, which raised more than $120,000 for bed nets for the organization.

I'm hardly alone. This month, the National Dance Institute in New York City is working with 25,000 inner-city youths to raise awareness about extreme poverty with Senegalese-inspired dance performances. Through their "Pennies for Potou" initiative, the kids are raising money for their peers in Senegal and trading letters with them.

People I talk to are shocked to find how relatively inexpensive the solutions to extreme poverty are -- 2 cents buys a de-worming pill, $1 provides a child school meals for a week, $10 buys a bed net that will protect two people from malaria for five years. At those rates, we can all play a part on the global stage and make a lasting change in the lives of people surviving on less than $1 a day. Think about that over your next New York Times and Starbucks coffee.

What is your take on this commentary? E-mail us

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the writer. This is part of an occasional series of commentaries on that offers a broad range of perspectives, thoughts and points of view.

Your responses asked readers for their thoughts on this commentary. Below you will find a small selection of your e-mails, some of which have been edited for length and spelling:

Mike Copos, West Chester, Pennsylvania
Too bad "feeding" hungry people in Africa primarily does two things: (1) sends money to corrupt officials in the destination country; (2) Creates even more hungry mouths to feed by subsidizing cultures that produce numerous children, even though they can't care for them. Unfortunately, decades of this type of "aid" has only kept the problem going if not increased but at the same time making the givers "feel good" that they are doing something. Hard to say it, but that's the truth. Check the facts, not the emotions.

Jeff Jurgensen, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
I have respected Roger Waters for both his music and his charity work for as long as I can remember. I appreciate his thoughtful commentary, and can only hope that it inspires people to help. As we've watched the Paris Hilton silliness play out it's nice to know that there are celebrities out there willing to use their fame and influence to help

Marc Leventhal, West Nyack, New York
All these ideas sound great, and I think almost everybody feels empathy for the situation in Africa. However, I don't think the problem can be solved simply by donating a few dollars here and there. My issue with the situation is, where is the government in this? I think the developed countries don't invest as much money into these problems because many of these nations are run by corrupt governments who pocket most of the money designed to help their people.

Elaine Thornberry, Brookside, New Jersey
Very powerful, moving. Kudos for giving exposure to something worthwhile like this on your website.

David Sereda, Los Angeles, California
I don't think money is the answer to poverty. I think sustainability needs to be taught in these countries. Money can jump start them, but it cannot sustain huge populations of dying people.

Kevin Eyre, Arlington, Washington
There's no arguing with your facts, Roger. I wonder just how many people would be willing to plop down not just one but several dollars to see Pink Floyd, with your participation of course, on a world tour. Proceeds could go to causes such as this. A nice excuse to get over the personal conflicts and do what you guys have done best, one more time...while you still are capable! It's not like you guys are young 50-something whipper-snappers like the Police! ;)

Grace Frary, San Jose, California
These commentaries are absolutely essential to staying informed regarding issues like these (not just in Africa). Personal accounts speak volumes over a CNN anchor's accounts of the same situation. I would like to see more commentaries regarding other African countries/cities, as well as domestic hotbeds for severe poverty.

Roger Waters

Roger Waters writes that a friend's marriage to a Senegalese woman (and his friend's eventual death from malaria) sparked his interest in Senegal.

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